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Eclectic Thoughts from a Homeschool Mom

Don’t believe in PRAYER? Say “Thanks” just the same

July 15th, 2010

I was on Facebook the other day, when a childhood friend made this comment:

“You’ll pray for me? OK, then, I’ll think for you.”

I know her to be a liberal, and highly educated woman. I also know that whenever someone says anything regarding Christianity (or a world view she doesn’t like), she gets upset. I thought about her comment, and against better judgement, I threw out my response:

“Can I just throw in something that will probably get me booted? Please don’t be offended when someone says they will pray for you. Hear me out here. We all have different ways of coping with hardships that our friends/loved ones are experiencing. Some of us think good thoughts. Some of us will say a prayer. Some of us will hold your hand and be there at 3am when you need to vent. We all handle things differently. THAT is what makes us all unique. That is what makes this world an amazing place.

When someone says they will pray for you, it means they care about you and want good to happen to you. They aren’t trying to shove God in your face. They are trying to say that they care for you. Personally, I don’t get offended when someone says they will think good thoughts for me. I wouldn’t be hurt if someone offered to light a candle, smoulder some incense, or even do a jig for me. They might not believe in God and prayer, as I do. That’s okay. I’m just honored that they even think of me in a good light at all. So, when someone says they will pray for you, all you have to say is “thanks”. You don’t have to believe like they do. Just be thankful that they care enough for you to want to see good things come your way.”

THE RESPONSE:

“When people are out there praying for the death of Obama and Mel Gibson is beating the crap out of his ex while considering a sequel to the Passion of the Christ, it tends to give a bad name to those who “pray for us”.

Clearly my previous comment didn’t hit the mark. So, I got this off my chest:

“I agree with you. However, there are bad/good people in EVERY FAITH (or no faith at all). Don’t you think? I strongly believe in “what goes around, comes around”. There are people that are condescending, self-righteous, and do not practice what they preach all over the world. We see them on the news. We have them in places of authority. We listen to them on talk radio. We see them in magazines. They author best selling books. We may even see them on a pulpit.

My faith says that when my life is done, I will answer for how I lived and treated the world. I try not to judge others by what they believe, who they voted for, who they are with in the privacy of their bedroom, and what they put into their body. I may completely disagree with what they have said/done, but I am not their judge/jury. I go about my life doing the best I can for my world & the people around me. That is who you are. This is who I am. We share this world. We are different in so many ways, but we need to get along. When my life is done, I would like others to say that I backed up my promises, loved/cared for everyone – no matter their color, age, sex, religion, political views, financial status, etc.

So to finish, I do agree with you. I think people lie to us ALL THE TIME. I do believe that we reap what we sow. No matter which side of the fence we are on. When we become dust, what will others say about how we lived? As the saying goes, make every day count. I plan on doing that. For me, that includes being a caring person that makes a positive impact. Yes, I do pray for others. I do it because I care for them. I don’t feel that I am better than anyone else. I am just going through each day making the best of what I have. Prayer helps me get through my life. It gives me comfort through the bad times and helps me to be thankful during great times. My faith helps make me who I am. It isn’t for everyone. That’s ok. That’s what makes each one of us special.”

CONCLUSION: It doesn’t matter if you don’t agree with your neighbor. Just respect that we are all given the right to believe what is in our hearts. We don’t have to agree with every idea. We just need to respect those that have them.

Advice for Long Distance Runners (the ones in the back…like me)

July 14th, 2010

I’ve had people ask me over the last few years for running tips. Sure, I’m an overweight, slow runner. However, I have learned some valuable information that I would like to share. The extremely dedicated runner (you know who you are…at the front of the race…in the seeded position….) probably won’t need to read this. That’s okay. This goes out to the rest of us. The runners that are at the back of the pack with the strollers, and are running just for the hell of it (and to keep the Love Handles away).

SHOES:
1) You need to find out your foot shape. This determines the TYPE of sole you will need in a running shoe. There are several ways to do this. The easiest is to go online. Try:
http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319-326-7152-0,00.html

You can also go to a local running store. We have Runtex here in Texas. I’m not sure if you have something like that where you are. They will test your foot in their store, but they will also expect you to spend $200+ on shoes. Beware of that. You probably don’t need $200 shoes.

Once you have determined your foot type, you will need to get shoes that compliment your foot. For example,
I roll my foot to the outside. I am more prone to shin/knee/hip injuries because of it. My shoes have a thick
outside sole to compensate for how my foot lands. I also have to replace my shoes more often. When I was training
for the WDW Goofy races, I went through THREE pair of shoes in 6 months. Yup, THREE pair @ $70/pair. Cha-ching!

For long distance running, I suggest getting 1-1.5 sizes LARGER than you normally wear. Your feet will swell up when you are running long distance. Larger shoes give your foot more room (i.e. less blisters, injury, etc.) I buy New Balance shoes.
I also buy men’s (if you wear a 9 in women’s, you would wear a 7 in men’s). That is just my preference. I like lots of toe room in my running shoes. I wear a 9, so I buy a woman’s 10.5 or a men’s 8.5.

If you find a brand you like, GREAT! It is a trial and error sort of thing. As I said, I like New Balance. I buy mine online with www.joesnewbalanceoutlet.com You can find shoes online, at your local sporting store, Ebay, etc. If you find a style that you adore, go online and buy another pair or go back to where you originally bought them. Unless on sale, you will usually find a better price for your shoes online. NOTE: You will need to replace your shoes at 300-400 miles OR when you are starting to notice shin/knee/hip pain. DO NOT (seriously, DON’T!) skimp here. Buy the shoes when you need them. Don’t buy the $20 shoes on sale either. Get the ones that are $50+. Your body will thank you.
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SOCKS:
I buy Thurlos. They are my absolute favorite because they “breathe” and they have lots of cushioning. Same thing applies
with running shoes & socks. Find what you like. Buy several pair. You will be surprised at how much good socks cost. I think my
Thurlos were something like $9-$11 a pair. Yikes!
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CHAFFING:
If you experience body chaffing, invest in a sport stick (Body Glide, etc.). Many folks use Vaseline too. I find that it stains
my running clothes. I had to resort to using sport tape with my last marathon season because I was rubbing myself to bleeding.
If you start to notice chaffing (i.e. waistband, armpits, breast area, etc.) buy a
sport stick.
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CLOTHING:
WEAR SOMETHING COMFORTABLE THAT BREATHES! Did I say that loud enough for you? I prefer wearing running tights, lycra long/tight shorts, etc. The Lord blessed (cursed?) me with less-than-model-perfect thighs. I prefer clothing that won’t rub me raw. Believe me, nothing hurts more than being on a long run and having your legs chafe. It sucks. Believe me, I’ve been there.
For my tops, I prefer breathable/wicking shirts. Yeah, you can wear a regular old t-shirt, but when the temperatures get up there, you will be more comfortable in a shirt that doesn’t hold moisture in.

MEN: Seriously consider wearing compression shorts for long runs. I know that many men like wearing simple running shorts. They may have an inner lining, but will that support you for 10, 15, or 20 miles?

WOMEN: Get a GOOD sports bra. I’m really top heavy for a woman runner (36DD). I wear Moving Comfort Maia or Helena running bras. I’ve tried Nike, Saucony, and several “just squish ’em down” bras. It doesn’t matter if you are large or small chested, find a COMFORTABLE & SUPPORTIVE bra to fit you. The two of you will be putting down lots of miles together. Make sure that the bra you wear isn’t too tight or too loose. Either one can rub you to bleeding. THAT is something every woman runner wants to avoid.

When it is really hot (like yesterday @5pm being 104 heat index here in Austin, TX), I wear a kerchief and wicking/dryfit hat. I get both WET before I go run. If the weather is going to be extremely hot, I may even get my shirt wet first too.

In cold weather, I wear gloves and a light, running jacket. After a mile, I usually put my gloves into my fanny pack and tie my jacket
around me. Winter temps don’t usually go below 27 degrees here. I tend to get warm after the first mile of running. You may be different.
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HAT:
Wear one. Period. It doesn’t matter if it is overcast. Wear one. Your eyes/skin will thank you.
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IDENTIFICATION (i.e. Just in Case something goes wrong):

Wear identification! It doesn’t matter if you are going around the block, or for a 20 miler, wear identification. One of my favorite recommendations is Road I.D. http://www.roadid.com/Common/default.aspx

You don’t have to go with this company, though. In fact, you can make your own tag and carry it with you. Make sure it says: (1) Your name (2) Your date of birth (3) Your blood type (4) Two emergency contact numbers (5) Medications you may be allergic to

I have been running for about 25 years now. I have fallen several times, and gotten a REALLY BAD case of shin splints on my runs. You NEED identification just in case. I read a story where a runner was side-swiped, injured, and couldn’t speak to the Paramedics. Her identification helped save her life. Don’t be without it!

______________________

SUNSCREEN:
*See Hat (well, not your eyes, but you get the point ;D LOL!)
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FOOD:
When I go on a really long run (I consider over 6 miles long), I eat a light carbohydrate. Usually this is a banana, Clif bar, or 1 cup of orange juice. I also take an Ibuprofen or two. I find that taking these little pills helps me not be as sore afterwards.

When I come home from my run, I shower and then eat a HEALTHY meal. Healthy I mean: oatmeal, whole wheat toast w/sugar free jam, fruit, egg-whites, 100% juice, fat free yogurt, etc. Research is showing that if you eat a protein within 30min of a strenuous workout, you cut your recovery time in HALF. Eat protein!

While training, you want to eat healthy. Many folks will push food on you with the “You are running so much, you can eat anything” approach. This is NOT true. There are many runners out there that think they can just eat and eat. That’s a great way to pack on the extra pounds. You still need to watch your calorie intake. When I am in training, I usually consume between 1700-1900 calories a day. That is when I am running AT LEAST 25 miles a week with strength training. Running less than that? Keep your calories around 1400-1500. Men need to eat around 2000 calories a day when they are not training. They will need to consume 200-500 more if they are.

When I train, I try to eat: brown rice, whole grain pastas/cereals/breads, fat free yogurt, milk, and cheese. FRESH fruits & vegetables (I also love steamed, broiled, or grilled veggies). natural Peanut Butter, almonds & walnuts. Egg whites, fish, chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef (I don’t eat much beef because it is heavier on the system). Stay away from processed/diet meals as they are full of sodium. Try to
make your meals as much as possible. Limit alcohol and caffeine too.

Foods to avoid before a long run: sugar free gum (seriously…this will hit your system and you will need to rush to the porta potty at the worst possible time), heavy spices or salsa, lots of leafy greens (same thing as gum).
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WATER:
Buy a sports bottle, and wear it for anything over 3 miles. When I am doing light training, I have a fanny pack that fits a 16oz bottle beautifully. When I go over 6 mile runs, I wear my Camelbak Hydrobak. This is just my personal preference. You don’t have to run with water strapped to your side. I get very thirsty on long runs, and love my Camelbak.

Just a note: If you decide to put something into your water, consider Powerade or Gatorade G, or a GOOD electrolyte drink. Long distance runners need something more than water. They need to replace salts that they are sweating away. Also, these drinks have sugar which also help with energy levels.

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ENERGY WHILE RUNNING:
There are TONS of sports foods out there. I prefer gel when I run over 8 miles. I really like the Hammer Gel Chocolate. I also like Clif Blox or Jelly Belly electrolyte beans. They work great too. This is sort of a personal preference thing. You have to remember that you will probably need something, but want to make sure that it is something that is easy for you to consume.
You will have a dry mouth (mostly) while running. You don’t want to be eating a granola bar or crackers. Many during running foods contain sugar and sodium. Sugar for energy and sodium to replace what your body is sweating. Make sure that your during run food (I use 1 item on a 13 miler and 2-3 on a marathon) fits into that category.

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DOING SOME SERIOUS TRAINING FOR AN EVENT:

I know that there are TONS of half/full marathon training programs out there. It is all a personal preference in what you choose. My two favorites are Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway. Both of these men are legends in long distance running. Jeff’s program encourages you to take short walk breaks throughout your long distance run. Hal’s program is also wonderful. Both men have run a bazillion (no, really, it’s true) marathons. Hal even did 7 marathons in 7 months for his 70th birthday for charity.

If you are training for your first half or full marathon (and have no idea how to go about it), I HIGHLY recommend the book: The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by David Whitsett, Forrest Dolgener and Tanjala Kole. This book got me through my first half marathon, and I’ve never stopped wanting to run since then.

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CARE OF YOUR BODY AFTER A RUN:
Take a nice, warm shower or bath. Many runners take an ice bath after a marathon (or a very long run). I know…it sounds insane. However, I did this for my last 3 halves & 2 marathons. It does wonders. Sure, it feels HORRIBLE when you are in the tub, but you won’t be as sore the next day.

The day after your longest run, make sure to take a rest day. Your muscle tissues need to repair themselves. A great thing to do on this day is yoga or light stretching. Don’t run more than 5 days a week. I have also found that doing strength training (especially CORE MUSCLE building) works wonders for my running time. As you get tired, you will tend to lean forward. Strengthening your tummy & back will help you run upright longer. Using a stability ball, hand weights, or bands are great aids for these exercises. I recently bought a weight vest too. I put it on when I am doing chores around the house. When I bend down to pick up socks, for example, I am using my tummy/back muscles. My vest is 10lbs. It doesn’t take much weight to get your muscles working hard. I found mine on Ebay for something like $20 + shipping.

The thing with most of these items is trial and error. You want to make sure that you are wearing comfortable shoes & clothing. As your race draws nearer, there will be other preparations to make.

Find a running schedule that is designed for first/intermediate time runners (Hal Higdon or Jeff Galloway are my favorites). If you miss a run day, don’t freak. Try to do something for exercise that day. You could speed walk, put in an exercise DVD, jump rope, do squats/lunges & crunches, etc. Just can’t fit in any exercise one day? It happens to us all. Continue with your schedule the next day.

One more thing, running isn’t always about how fast you get to the end. When I am training, I run 10 min. miles. During a race, I run 9 min. miles (sometimes less, but that is usually my pace). That’s slow for most dedicated runners. You know what? WHO CARES?! Getting to the finish line is what matters. You can walk, jog, skip, sprint, or crawl to the end. The journey is half the fun. YOU WILL DO GREAT!!!

About Shan – She is the slow, chubby mom in the back of every race, and she is still smiling. She’s completed 3 marathons, 5 half marathons down (including the Walt Disney World 2009 Goofy Races), and countless 5k & 10K races. Her goal is to do 5 marathons and 20 half marathons total by age 50 (8 years away). If she can run, so can YOU!

The Wind Blew Us Into Chicago

June 8th, 2010

Two silly kids

The wonderful thing about my husband’s job, is that our family is blessed with tagging along on a few of his business trips throughout the year. In 2009, we went to NYC (I went 2x), and Boston. This year, it is Chicago and San Francisco.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Chicago. Sure it is big and populated, but what about the feel of the place? Will it have the charm that NYC has? Will I see street venders? Will I hear countless languages spoken on the street? Will the museums blow my socks off? Will the food be worthy of mention?

Our family started our week off with a 6am flight (*groan*) on Tuesday. My husband had to be at the Chicago office by noon. The flight was uneventful, thankfully. I’m not a fan of flying. Yes, yes, yes. I KNOW it is the safest way to travel, yadda yadda yadda. All that scientific data doesn’t convince my irrational fears. If I only had the ability to nod my head like Samantha from Bewitched….*sigh*

Our ride from the airport was around 45 min. on the “L” train. I just want to interject that the NYC subway system is MUCH SMOOTHER than the Chicago “L”. I felt that my fillings were rattling out of my head on the Chicago train. Do they purposely make the train car rattle so you can’t sleep through your stop? Sounds like a Transportation Dept. conspiracy to me. Next, they will have electrified seats to keep us awake!

We were staying at the Hilton near the Chicago “Loop”. The hotel is magnificent for temporary lodging standards. It had a grand entrance, revolving doors, FedEx, Starbucks, ballroom, and an amazing gym/pool. Their Diamond Status (those that spend way too much time using guest towels and complimentary soaps) dining area was a bit drab. You get really tired of bagels after eating them daily for a week. Of course, I’m comparing it to the Tokyo Hilton. Sorry Hilton, Tokyo rules. Might I suggest that you offer that same service to ALL of your locations? Thank you for your cooperation.

The Loop is the area of Chicago that you see on the brochures and commercials. HUGE skyscrapers. Businessmen/women with their laptop bags. Hustle and bustle and the “L” train, oh my! It is also speckled with museums. Our son and I had 3.5 days to peruse the various museums, take lots of photos, learn lots of facts, and make my feet ache beyond words.

Just a FYI for those going to big cities & doing LOTS of sightseeing: GET THE CITY PASS. Period. You will save a TON of money, and be able to cut right to the front of the museum/attraction lines. The Chicago City Pass was $69/person. That may sound like a lot to fork out all at once, but think about this: Most museums/attractions start around $25 for admission. The City Pass usually lasts 7-9 days. If you want to see just 3 attractions, your pass is paid for and then some. Trust me. Get the pass.

Where's the Butter?

As Tuesday was already half over, our son & I decided to walk around the Loop and sightsee. This area of town is what you would expect in a typical business/touristy area. Streets are lined with: Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, copy shops, trinket shops, upscale clothing stores, and bustling restaurants. The highlight for me was walking into Dick Blick. If you aren’t an artist, you probably have never heard of them. They are an artists Toys ‘R’ Us. The Chicago store is two stories of creative bliss. The lower level has blank canvases, and paper craft supplies. Have you ever walked into a store and thought: “Oh Yeah! I could get into some serious financial trouble in here!”? That was EXACTLY how I felt. I shuffled along the lower level while our son went up the escalator to the 2nd floor. He quickly texted me saying: “Get up here, NOW!” I have a confession to make. When I got to the 2nd floor, I had tears in my eyes. THIS was my store. I was surrounded by my friends: Prismacolor, Staedtler, Koh-i-Noor, Faber-Castell, Caran D’Ache, Winsor & Newton, Holbein, Canson, Strathmore, Arches, Liquitex, Daler-Rowney, and Da Vinci. Hello, old friends. I would love to take you all home, but my husband would kill me. I can’t believe that I got out of there for under $30. Michaels & Hobby Lobby stores can’t hold a candle to Dick Blick. Thank goodness for mail order catalogs.

That first night, my husband treated us to traditional Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s. The difference between NYC pizza vs. Chicago is the SAUCE PLACEMENT. Your typical pizza chain usually offers NYC style with the sauce UNDER the toppings. Chicago pizza has the sauce OVER the toppings. Chicago pizzas are called pies for a reason. They take about 45 minutes to cook because they are literally dough/cheese/meat pies. The thick crust is crunchy, and the inside is ooey-gooey, burn the hell out of your tongue goodness. Once you cut off a slice, the rest of the pie does a landslide in that direction. Although NYC wins my heart over, Chicago pies are a close runner up.

The following day was the beginning of our whirlwind museum tour. Our first stop was the Shedd Aquarium. Did I mention that Chicago schools are approaching the end of their school year? Did I mention that EVERY SINGLE SCHOOL IN CHICAGO was going to local museums this week? I didn’t? Let me just say, I like kids. I really do, for the most part. I had a daycare with 8 boys for 3 years. I am a mother, and an aunt. With that said, WHY do some children have to act like orangutans and scream in public places? Manners, children. Use them! Other than the rambuctious school kids, and the shark exhibit being closed, the Shedd Aquarium was a joy. I could name about 90% of the tropical fish (20yrs. of fish tank experience here). They had a large interactive area for small children. They had penguins, otters, seals, crustaceans, amphibians, deep ocean creatures (did you know that there is an animal in the ocean that looks like a giant Rollie Pollie?), and TONS of fish. We stayed until lunch, and then went to our next destination: Adler Planetarium

Nice View!

Many people are space dreamers. They secretly wish that NASA would call them for a job interview. They know a ton a trivia about space, stars, planets, black holes, and the Big Bang. I look at our galaxy and beyond and think: “God sure knows how to make some dazzling stuff”. My little brain can’t grasp the expanse of space. I’d like to think that our Creator made other populated planets. Maybe my son or grandchildren will meet them one day. All I know is that each time I see a new photo from space, I marvel at the greatness of it all. Our son and I feel the same way about space. We went into the Adler Planetarium optimistic and hoping to learn something new. We were sadly disappointed. This museum is quite small. It felt like we were walking through a 3-D encyclopedia. There were facts plastered on walls, but very little “hands-on” for visitors. Our admission allowed us to see Journey to the Stars in their theater. I must confess, I fell asleep. Truly. Maybe it was Whoopi Goldberg’s voice. Maybe it was the boring atmosphere. I wasn’t impressed. The highlight to our Adler visit was the ball-vortex demonstration, and the front door guard asking us about our visit. You know it is bad when the size of the gift shop makes more of an impact than the displays.

That night, my husband’s company allowed our son and I to accompany them to a Spanish Tapas meal. For those that have never had this type of meal, I can describe it as a spanish dim sum on steroids. We had: octopus, veal, salmon, chorizo, potato/egg casserole, bruschetta, different cheese, and tiramisu. It was a wonderful, stomach-bursting meal. The waitress filled my glass with sangria THREE times. Let’s just say that I was glad to be able to walk off some of the meal/alcohol on the way back to our hotel.

Our third day in Chicago started off at the Museum of Science and Industry. We hopped on a local bus and arrived just before opening. My husband’s co-worker mentioned that it wasn’t an impressive museum. The reviews online suggested differently. I am happy to report that it was a WONDERFUL experience. FYI: Plan ALL DAY here, and bring a sack lunch. A meager lunch for the two of us was close to $20. There is a little something for everyone at this museum. Highlights for us were the retired: train, U-boat, airliner, and several war planes. Their two-story weather exhibit is fascinating and quite impressive. The miniature Chicago downtown with model trains running through it was a delight. The Human Body area was a fountain of information. The IMAX movie “Hubble” was stellar (no pun intended). The only disappointments were the Chemistry area, and simulated Coal Mine exhibit (the line never moved, so we left without seeing it). This museum was very “hands-on” and family friendly. There was something for everyone. We really enjoyed it.

Walking on Air. Sort of.

After my husband got out of class, we headed to the Willis (I still think of it as the Sears) Tower. Our City Pass allowed us to get to the 103 floor. I wasn’t planning to go up with the guys for two reasons: (1) I’d been to the Empire State Building & they hadn’t, and (2) I’m afraid of heights. My husband firmly encouraged (which is a nice way of saying he made me do it) me to go up with them. Our timing was perfect as there were very few tourists around. You get a 360 degree view of Chicago. It is quite beautiful, and a great place to take photos for your scrapbook. The highlight for most people are the glass viewing platforms that allow visitors to look through the floor to the street 1,353 feet below. I did say most people. Remember that whole heights thing? Ummm…yeah. My guys loved going out on the boxes (there are 4 of them) to look below. I did put on a brave face and backed up just enough to have my picture taken in one of them. No. I did not look down. Yes, I am proud of myself for doing it.

For our last day in Chicago, my son and I went to the Field Museum of Natural History. This museum is HUGE. The only downside to the museum being so large, is that many of the exhibits are spread out. It may look big, but there aren’t that many exhibits in it. We were fascinated with the: rocks & minerals, the fully-intact T-Rex skeleton named Sue, Earth Sciences, animals from around the world, and the Underground Adventure (you walk through an exhibit where you are smaller than ground creatures). The Egyptian exhibit was nice, but we had seen the King Tut travelling show in 2009 and this just felt wanting. We got through the museum in 3 hours. We didn’t see everything, but quite a bit of it felt familiar so we didn’t go through those exhibits.

We met up with my husband just after lunch. We had seven hours to kill before heading back to Texas. As the Federal Reserve of Chicago was just down the way, we headed that way. It is pretty cool that you can visit a government facility like this. Their visitor area isn’t large, but it is fascinating. They have quite a display of American currency from the past. They have an area where you guess which bills are real, and which are counterfeit. There is a small theater, several displays showing you what $1,000,000 looks like (in $1 bills and $100). I learned that this one facility destroys $23.2 MILLION a day in old bills. Wowwie!! Where does that money go? They let you take a free souvenir baggie full of shredded bills totally $364 with you. Pretty cool souvenir. Thanks, Uncle Sam.

Our last hours were spent visiting the famous “Jelly Bean” Cloud Gate. We also saw the Crown Fountains, and Navy Pier.

SUMMARY OF CHICAGO: I know we only got to see the Loop in Chicago, but it did make an impression on me.

  1. I was happy to see that such a large city had quite a few parks. The ones that we walked through were well-maintained, and lush.
  2. There were quite a few individuals asking for spare change. It seemed to me that there were many more than in NYC. However, I did not see any cardboard houses like you see in NYC.
  3. There were quite a few overweight people in Chicago. Maybe this is the trend of the U.S. People are getting larger. I just happened to notice quite a few obese folks here.
  4. There isn’t as much of a melting pot in Chicago as in NYC. I expected to see more than I did.

I’m glad that we visited Chicago. I can now mark this city off of my list. Thanks Chicago for the pizza, museums, and views. Loved your jelly bean and spitting fountains. Wasn’t thrilled with your planetarium. Adore your art store.

Poison Oak – The Bane of my Existence

May 17th, 2010

I’m not someone that frowns on life in our world. I appreciate insects. I adore animals. I delight in plants. With that said, there are some life forms in our world that I have no fondness for. Last week, I had a tussle with the worst of the plant world: POISON OAK

My life has been so crazy over these last five years or so. We’ve gone through job changes, family crisis, travel, illness, and homeschooling. I’ve neglected everything that was cosmetic (for me and our home), in hopes that I would find the time and energy down the way to tackle them. I’ve been motivated lately to see to beautifying our home as we will be having guests over the summer.

My first project was to confront the jungle on our side yard facing the street. The trees and shrubbery have overgrown to the point that you couldn’t see half way up the side of the house. My trusty shears and I spent the better part of an afternoon on the side yard. I was literally a botanical beautician. I finished up my hours of labor with a self-appointed pat on the back. Job well done, Shan!

Fast forward a few hours into the evening. *Scratch scratch* My elbow itches. Wowwie! It itches like mad! Did I get bit by a spider when I was working outside? Sadly, no. I could only dream of an overzealous arachnid munching on my arm. No, my itch was from the green pest – The Poison Oak plant.

I’ve found out that the oils from Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac leech into your system. Some speculate as soon as 10 minutes. Others say you have up to two hours. All I know was that I was too late to get the oils off of my skin before they went into my blood stream.

In a little over a week’s time, I have weeping welts ALL OVER MY BODY. Well, my heels, palms, ears, and scalp seem to be safe…for now. I found that Benadryl helps for a bit. Of course, I don’t really feel like itching when I am in a Benadryl-induced stupor. Calamine lotion helps for a bit too, but doesn’t take away the itch for long. Honestly, nothing but time and muttering under your breath can take away this stuff.

This gets me to wonder about a few other life forms in our world that really have no purpose. At least, I can’t understand why they are important. Sure, they could be food for other things, but, what are they REALLY doing here? Can someone give me a good reason for:

*Poison Oak, Ivy, Sumac
*Cockroaches
*Earwigs
*Silverfish
*Mosquitoes
*Those little lawn plants with stickers that get caught in your socks
*Parasitic worms (Tape worms? Really? Eww!)
*Thorny bushes without fruit (Saw Greenbriar here in Austin, I HATE YOU!)

Don’t get me wrong. I know that there are some life forms that people hate (i.e. bats, piranha, leeches, Venus Fly Traps, lawyers, maggots, and sharks to name a few). I have a healthy respect for those critters, and don’t really mind them. On second thought, I lied. I really hate maggots too.

Most life forms are treasured for their unique qualities and what they offer our world. They have a purpose. I’m referring to being more than just food (I’m talking to you, Mosquito). Can someone explain to me why a should appreciate the Poison Oak? Don’t let the emerald greenery fool you. It is NOT a good plant. Begone from my yard, oh wicked botanical!!!

Texans in Japan – Day 9 – LAST DAY!

April 13th, 2010

It is our last day in Japan, and it is POURING rain. Absolutely coming down in buckets. We didn’t order this weather!

Keisei Skyliner Train

Keisei Skyliner Train

We had a leisurely breakfast at the hotel, packed up our belongs into our large backpacks, and headed out to find a Japanese block print for our home. Jinbocho is famous for their used book stores and block prints. We couldn’t afford an original (starts at $30,000 yen and goes up from there). A replica goes from $30 yen and up. We could afford a replica. We arrived in Jinbocho around 10am only to find that all of the stores were still closed. Isn’t this a Monday? What do you mean you don’t open until later? *sigh*

Smoking is ONLY allowed in designated areas outside

Smoking is ONLY allowed in designated areas outside

Tony & I in front of the Imperial Palace

Tony & I in front of the Imperial Palace

We hopped back on the subway to another shopping district, Ameyoko. The rain was making it difficult to enjoy window shopping, so we decided to find lunch. We found a conveyor-belt sushi bar for the guys. These places are really interesting. The sushi chefs stand in the middle of the restaurant with a circular conveyor belt and bar surrounding them. You pull up a seat to the bar and grab different colored plates with the sushi you want on them. When you have had your fill of fresh sushi, you have the waitress add up your colored plates (each color is a different price). I only ate the cooked shrimp tails on rice. My guys had fatty tuna, salmon, and other raw delicacies. Lunch for the 3 of us came to less than $30.

Traditional vs. Modern

Traditional vs. Modern

As the weather was just horrible, we decided to take the Skyliner Train to the airport. We checked in our bags, and headed to security. Here is where our problems began. First of all, my husband travels A LOT. He is travelling around the country usually 3 out of 4 weeks a month. He is a Platinum status flyer (2nd only to Executive Platinum with over 100,000 miles flown a year). His status is printed on his tickets. With that said, he gets the double inspection pretty much every other time he goes to the airport. If you were to see him, you would think him one of the most non-threatening people out there. He is a big, blond teddy bear. Anyway, our son & I got through security with no problem. My husband was told that he would need a secondary screening and to please step aside. The agent called over to her supervisor a moment later. We thought it was to have him screen my husband. Nope. She wanted to tell him that she needed her break. She made my husband stand there for 10 minutes before someone came over to relieve her for break. The relieving agent saw my husband, and then had someone take my husband to a different area to screen him. His bags were opened, he was patted down, had the magnetic wand run over him, asked questions, had his hands & bag swabbed down, and finally released. It took him approximately 20 minutes to get through security. HE IS A MAN THAT FLIES ALL THE TIME, PEOPLE!!!

My silly, egg eating husband

I am the Egg Man..Coo Coo Ka Joo

@ Yodobashi Camera being silly

@ Yodobashi Camera being silly

Our son eating his traditional Japanese breakfast

Our son eating his traditional Japanese breakfast

Me

Me

So adorable!

So adorable!

To calm our frazzled (and really upset) nerves, we went to the Admirals Club for a drink & snack with 10 minutes to go until our flight. The flight from Tokyo to Chicago is over 11 hours. I don’t care if you love to travel by plane. Being on one plane for 11+ hours is gruelling. It is hard to sleep on a plane with turbulence, and glaring television monitors from the seats in front of you. I watched three movies and a television show, took a short nap, read some of my book, and ate. Did you know that American Airlines feeds you two meals and one snack on a flight 11+ hours long? Their food wasn’t that bad either. There was chicken/pasta or beef/rice for dinner. We didn’t take the snack box when it came around. Breakfast was croissant w/fresh fruit. The flight attendants also come around 3-4 times asking if you want something to drink. You are definitely full when you get off the plane.

Delicate Cherry Blossoms

Delicate Cherry Blossoms

Upon arriving in Chicago, we needed to go through Customs. The airport was VERY CONFUSING when it came to which area to go to if you were a citizen or just visiting. The US citizens line was pretty short, where the visitors line was a mile long. I have to say that the Customs agent was HORRENDOUS to visitors. For being the first person that these people will see, she should be polite and welcoming. The agent we saw should have been fired for the abusive way she spoke to these other world travellers. She screamed at them and talked down to them like they were dirt on the bottom of her shoe. As an American, I was embarrassed that someone would treat people like that. If I had the power, I would’ve fired her right there. NO ONE should be talked down to like that. We NEVER experienced that abuse when we visited Japan. They were all VERY POLITE to us, and even thanked us for visiting their country. The agent gave the impression that these people weren’t wanted. Yup. I would’ve fired her if I could have.

Another weird Japanese Ad

Another weird Japanese Ad

Sad trash can :(

Sad trash can 🙁

Our flight from Chicago to Austin was uneventful. We were all looking forward to a shower and sleeping in our own beds. Our dogs were incredibly happy to see us when we got home. I missed my dog so much. As I brushed my teeth before bed, I asked my husband about how long our Monday was. He said that we had started our day 28 hours ago. We saw two sunrises and two sunsets. How amazing is this marble that we live on?

Would I travel to Japan again? I would, if given the opportunity. However, the world has so much to offer. I just might find somewhere new to go to next time. Hmm….I wonder if we can save up for Ireland/Scotland next. Hmmm…. 🙂

Texans in Japan – Day 8

April 13th, 2010

Today’s adventure starts when we get off the subway at Tsukiji. We wanted to catch an act at a Kabuki theater. When we got up top from the subway, we heard loud drums banging. What is THAT?! We walked down the sidewalk a bit to find huge children’s festival. A tradition Japanese drum band was performing. It was AWESOME! There were adorable Japanese children dressed in formal wear enjoying the performance as well. After watching the performance (and taking lots of pictures), we watched a sampling of a traditional tea ceremony, petted baby farm animals (the baby chicks were my favorite), and had green tea ice cream in cones.

We headed towards the Kabuki theater while enjoying the sites. As Kabuki is an all-day performance (usually over $200/person for tickets), we thought we would just take in one act (approx. $30/person). Sadly, all tickets were sold out for the day. No Kabuki this trip.

We hopped back on the subway to Harajuku. Each Sunday, young adults dress in their craziest fashions and parade themselves down Takeshita-dori. I thought we had some unusual style in Austin with our cowboy boots, but that doesn’t hold a candle to these folks. We saw girls dressed as anime characters, Little Bo Peep, a goth Holly Hobby, a Rainbow Brite wanna-be, and what looked like an 80’s men’s Hair Band (including the PVC clothing and dyed/spiked long red hair). It was quite an experience to see these young people walk around. The more outrageous their clothing, the more looks they got (which is just what they wanted).

Rainbow Brite

Rainbow Brite

Cat Street Crowd

Cat Street Crowd

We jumped back on the subway to Asakusa and the Sensoji Temple for a little more window shopping. As the children of Japan go to school six days a week, Sunday is the only day that most people can get out to do shopping and enjoy their surroundings. Needless to say, the shopping districts were packed with shoppers. We found a few magnets to adorn our refrigerator, and headed back to Shinjuku.

One of the things that Tony wanted to try while in Japan was Fugu. You can really only get it in Tokyo or San Francisco. We walked around Shinjuku, and found two restaurants that served it. However, we found that the cheapest of the two places served TWO PIECES for $70! Tony couldn’t justify a bit of fresh puffer fish for $35, so we found something else for dinner.

This was a day full of color and unexpected surprises. I particularly loved the children’s festival. The children dressed in traditional Japanese formal wear were ADORABLE! Tomorrow will be our last day in Japan. Part of me is looking forward to my own bed. However, the other part of me is sad. I have thoroughly enjoyed this trip. The people of Japan are so different from those of the United States. I will miss it.

Texans in Japan – Day 7

April 10th, 2010

We got up this morning and headed to Azabu Juban. This area is famous for upscale shopping. All three of us thought it was famous for “everything looks the same”. It was completely boring. The only highlight of this area was being able to

Cherry trees in bloom

Cherry trees in bloom

go into a full scale Japanese super market. We could only identify about 5% of the goods in the store, as most of the packaging didn’t give away what was inside.

From here, we rode the train to Asakusa to see the Sensoji Temple. This is the largest shrine in Japan. Apparently, Saturday is the day to go to the temple as there were hundreds upon hundreds of tourists there. The temple face is being preserved/renovated, so the entire facade was covered in cloth to protect it from the elements. It made exterior photos impossible. We walked around a bit, had our fortune given to us for $1 (You shake a container that has a slim stick come out. The number that is on the stick is the fortune paper you receive.), and took photos of the surrounding gardens. We say a “geisha in training” girl outside of the temple. She was about 12 yr. old and dressed in all of her finery. Simply beautiful.

img_0840The area around the shrine is surrounded by various shops including clothing, restaurants, camera stores, and stationers. We bought a few small trinkets for family, and then Tony took me into Nakamisa, a kimono/robe shop. He spoiled me by buying a navy robe in a cherry blossom design. I’m sure I will treasure it until the day I die.

We had lunch in a restaurant that served both sushi and cooked Japanese food. Tony had sushi (including salmon roe), and Dakota & I had pork over rice with a cooked egg on top. We did more window shopping, but didn’t find anything we had to have.

From there we went to Akihabara. Tony had been debating on buying a camera. He found one he really liked, but he wanted to check the yen/dollar value online first. Unfortunately, the yen rose today, so our dollars were worth even less. It made the camera that he wanted the same price as in the U.S. It just wasn’t worth buying here and carrying home.

Shopping beside Sensoji Temple

Shopping beside Sensoji Temple

As we were in the electronics district (and I wasn’t really interested in most of the shops), I asked if I could sit a while. I encouraged the guys to park me on a busy corner with chairs, so they could go off and explore. They went off to go look at tiny, handheld computers. Tony said that we can’t get them in the U.S. I know he would love bringing one home to the envy of all his friends. They ended up not buying one afterall.

The night lights of Akihabara glowed like Times Square. It would’ve been great to

Akihabara at Night

Akihabara at Night

take long exposure photos, but the constant stomping of pedestrians made it impossible. A few quick photos, and we were off to our hotel.

We called it an early night by heading to the Hilton Honors floor for a drink and some appetizers. We have been spoiled all week with few business men/tourists using the Honors floor. The weekend is a whole new thing. We weren’t the only ones enjoying a drink & snacks.

We will be leaving Japan in two days. I think I will be sad to leave. We’ve done so much, but seen so little of this beautiful country. The people are shy, but friendly. The environment is cutting edge, but treasures it’s history. There is so much to see, and so little time. We will try to fit in something new tomorrow. Only two more days to go.

Texans in Japan – Day 6

April 9th, 2010

Today’s adventure begins at 4:45am. We needed to get up this early to see the Tsukiji Fish Market in all its chaotic glory. This is where all of the sushi restaurants and fish sellers come to buy their fresh seafood. It is just off of the Tokyo bay.

img_0744I have to say that this is one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen. The smell of fish is fills your nostrils to a whole new level. There are hundreds of fast moving carts driving around with baskets of fresh fish being taken from one area to the next. There are hundreds of booths filled with every seafood item imaginable. Huge tuna (flash frozen out at sea to preserve freshness) are laying in a large warehouse. Bidding wars ensue for top dollar. These tuna will be served to sushi lovers tonight.

img_0774After we walked through the chaos for about an hour, we headed towards nearby stalls. For sushi lovers that want the freshest seafood items, nothing beats eating right next to Tsukiji. Tony and Dakota found a tiny sushi bar for breakfast. I know that having raw fish for breakfast sounds weird to Americans, but it is completely normal for Japanese. The guys went in, and I decided to walk around the area (with my trusty Clif bar breakfast in hand) to people watch. The guys had: abalone, ark shell clam, tuna, mackerel, sardine, and yellow fin. They sat next to two guys from New York, and chatted a bit.

img_0749After breakfast, we came back to our hotel for a much needed two hour nap. Feeling energized we hopped on the subway to Ameyoko. This is a local shopping district filled with: jewelry, food kiosks, and clothing stores. We found a store that had what appeared to be American clothing. Upon a closer inspection, you realized that many of the t-shirts were either misspelled, or had sayings on them that made absolutely no sense. Tony and I both found shirts on a clearance rack for $8 each.

We had a quick meal at Yoshinoya (the equivalent to a Japanese McDonald’s with rice and meat). We dropped Dakota off at the hotel with two movies to watch, and then Tony and I headed out for some nighttime walking. We found ourselves just a few blocks away in the Kabuki Cho district. This is the entertainment district of Tokyo. You can find: massage parlors, Pachinko bars, t-shirt shops, sushi bars, dance clubs, and even brothels. Brothels are regulated by the government. Only the older ones are around as the government stepped in and stopped allowing new ones to form. Walking by these places, their windows are plastered with photos of the “entertainers” inside. Unlike the U.S., you don’t see the “entertainers” walking the streets.

Tony and I were hitting the tired wall so we headed back at 8:30pm for a quiet night in the hotel. I don’t  know how much walking we’ve done on this trip, but it feels like a hundred miles.

Texans in Japan – Day 5

April 9th, 2010

It rained all night long! Tony & I woke up at 6:30am and headed over to a private hut for a bath. The air was very cold, but the hot springs felt wonderful.

After our bath, we packed up and headed down for a traditional Japanese breakfast.

Traditional Japanese breakfast

Traditional Japanese breakfast

All I can say is…different. Breakfast consisted of 2 broiled butter fish (including skin, bones, and head), a salad with sushi on it, miso soup, rice porridge, a small piece of boiled potato, a raw egg, green tea, steamed rice, and two tiny pieces of pineapple/grapefruit. There was also a plate with many mystery foods on it that smelled HORRIBLE. We think it was some sort of fermented vegetables and fish. None of us had the nerve to try it. I ate the fish, fruit, and steamed rice. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the rest.

After checking out, we headed over to the cable car, and then ropeway to

On the railcar

On the railcar

Owakudani (a look-out approx. 20 miles away from Mt. Fuji). The rain from the night before had turned into snow, and it was really cold up there. The sun was out, but the wind went right through you.

Yummy! Black eggs from Owakudani

Yummy! Black eggs from Owakudani

The place was busy for 10am. There were volcanic stream vents and springs everywhere you looked. Tony realized that this tourist spot was not only famous for viewing Mt. Fuji, but for EGGS. They take regular eggs and boil them in the hot springs. The sulfur turns the egg shells black. People come from all over Japan to eat these eggs. It is said that for every egg you eat, you are extending your life by 7 years. My guys ate 2.5 each. I had about a year’s worth. The guys loved them.

We hiked to the top viewing area to take pictures of the mountain. Wow! The area smelled HORRIBLE! The sulfur made me think of when I ran a daycare. Wow! It smelled exactly like dirty diapers. Whew! We took lots of pictures, although Mt. Fuji was mostly covered by clouds.

We spent a few hours playing tourists, and then headed for the ropeway, cable car, img_0656and train back to Shinjuku. We checked back in with the Tokyo Hilton, and rested a bit in our new room. Our room was made up for two, not three, so the maid came in to fix that. She didn’t speak english, but she motioned that our son was very tall. He was happy with that. He is about the same size as most Japanese men.

After our rest, we walked several blocks to the Tokyo Metropolitan building. This is a famous building in the financial district that encourages tourists to go to their 45th floor. You can see all of Tokyo from this floor. It is absolutely breathtaking.

One view from Tokyo Metropolitan

One view from Tokyo Metropolitan

From the Metropolitian building, we wondered over to Odakyu, a 14-story department store. Our son forgot a heavy jacket, so I thought maybe we could find him one at the local department store. I was wrong. The 11th floor clearance area did have jackets, but they were around $200-$300+. That is for CLEARANCE. No jacket there, buddy.

We were all getting really tired from two days of walking, so we found a noodle shop around the corner for dinner. On our way back to our hotel, we walked through the tiny streets full of clothing and camera shops. I found two clearance track jackets for myself & our son. They obviously were translated from japanese to english, but the literal translation didn’t work. They will be treasured additions to our wardrobes.

Tomorrow holds a special field trip that we had been looking forward to. Time to get to bed because 4:45am comes really early.

Texans in Japan – Day 4

April 8th, 2010
img_0560

Crunky? You mean Crunchy, right?

We woke up to take the Odakyu Romance Train to Hakone/Gora this morning. The ride takes 1.5 hours. It started to drizzle on the way up the steep mountainside. The landscape is lush and green. Bamboo forests, various mosses, and a stream blanket the terrain. The higher our train climbed, the more the clouds rolled in. The sky turned dark quickly and it wasn’t even noon.

By the time we got to our final destination in Gora, the sky opened up and it was pouring rain. It took us a while to find our hotel as the map that was given to Tony was wrong. We finally found it, but check in wasn’t until 3pm. The desk agent asked us what we wanted for dinner. The options were “interesting”. We left our backpacks with hotel, and went in search of a diversion for three hours. We had to buy cheap umbrellas from a little shop around the corner as we didn’t plan on it raining.

The streets were very narrow, and most tourists were hiding from the nasty weather. We wondered up a very steep road, and came across a restaurant that was connected to a house. The proprietors lived/worked in the same building. The great thing about most restaurants here in Japan, is that many have windows with plastic foods mimicking the dishes they serve. A tourist may speak a different language, but can still order something by pointing at the window. It sounds funny, but this REALLY helps those that are “Japanese language impaired”.

Tony had the fried pork over rice. I had the curry rice, and Dakota had an omelette filled with rice & topped with ketchup (sounds gross but he said it was great). We  had hot sake to warm us after walking in the rain. When we paid and went to leave, the proprietor woman gave us 3 nice pair of wooden chop sticks rapped in a napkin. I was touched by the gesture, and gave Tony a look to say: “We should tip her for these”. Tony got my message and left a stack of change before we walked out. The proprietor RAN after us and gave Tony back his money. Oops! No tipping allowed, buddy!

Our room in Gora

Our room in Gora

When we got back to our hotel, we were told to pick out a formal japanese robe and belt. We assumed that they were to wear to the hot springs. I chose one in pink/purple/red with cherry blossoms, Tony chose one that looked like a hawaiian shirt print, and Dakota went for a standard blue stripe.

Our room was sparce in decoration as it was in a modern japanese style. There were two mattresses (one for Tony & one for me). There was a 20″ table with three seat backs w/cushions around them. It is a traditional table for eating/having your tea ceremony, etc. Dakota’s bed was a mat (which he said was comfortable to sleep on). There was a front entrance where you took off your shoes. Sandals were provided. The toilet room had a warmed seat (very nice on winter/spring days), and a sink mounted on top an efficient use of space. The whole room was covered in mats. There was an attached washroom with a transition shower that led to the balcony. On the balcony was a personal hot spring tub. Bamboo blinds could be rolled down to give the nude bather privacy.

We set the tub up for Dakota, and Tony and I  decided to chance getting into a

Dakota in Japanese dress attire

Dakota in Japanese dress attire

private hut on the grounds. We put on the provided robes and headed over. Unfortunately, the private ones were all in use. Neither one of us felt like going to the public, segregated bath. Call me shy, but I don’t miss the days of showering with a large population. Junior high & high school showers broke me from that.

We headed back to the room, and waited for Dakota to get done with his bath. Before taking a hot spring bath, the bather is required to thoroughly wash. We took a hot shower, and then got into the 2-person cedar tub. The air temperature was very cold & rainy, but the tub was at 104 degrees.

We played our travel Settlers of Catan to pass the time until our dinner reservation at 8pm. We went down to the hotel restaurant only to find that our american clothing were not allowed at dinner. This is where our fancy japanese robes came in. We ran back up to our room and changed.

When we got downstairs, we were taken to a small room where another family of 4 were just starting their meal. We were seated at our table which already had our first course waiting – sushi. There were three decorative plates that had the craziest sushi we had ever seen on them. One plate had a mustard sauce  with a WHOLE squid (all parts intact minus the eyes) on it. Another plate had what looked like a typical sushi roll, but with a dried whole fish on it.

Squid with mustard, anyone?

Squid with mustard, anyone?

The meal went on and on with 7 courses. The main meal for Tony was eel & egg. *gag* Dakota and I had beef stew (2 tiny pieces of beet, a chunk of carrot, a chuck of potato in broth). The waitress lit up three burners on our table and brought our meals in metal bowls. Tony said that his eel/egg dish would’ve tasted better if they hadn’t put a big cube of seaweed tofu in it. Those were the only cooked items in our 7 course meal. Both of the guys said that all of the sushi rice was made with a strange fish broth that completely overtook the fresh fish. It ruined the flavor of the food.

As so many of the courses were raw, I didn’t eat much for dinner. I did splurge with a glass of plum wine (Yum!). Both of the guys were disappointed with the food. The presentation was amazing, but everything was VERY fishy to the point of not tasting right. Tony figured that the meal was at least $100/person. Thankfully, that was included with cost of our stay.

After dinner, Tony and I went back out for another bath on the balcony. All I can say is: We NEED one of these! It is very relaxing. We wound down the night by playing more games and listening to it pour rain (still) outside. Maybe tomorrow’s weather will be clear to see Mount Fuji? I sure hope so.

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